Liberating Leviticus

04Oct07

Ask and ye shall receive…

I asked a blogger on this thread to offer me some specific scriptural citations that indicate that homosexuality is a sin. So, somebody pointed out that in Leviticus 18.22 and 20.13, two men having sex “as with a woman” is clearly condemned.

leviticus3.JPGThis got me thinking, because it is also true that Leviticus is full of mandates, rituals, and practices that, for a variety of reasons, are no longer considered to be instructive for how we ought to live our daily lives today. (See Lev 11, 12, 15, 19.20-28 for particularly choice examples.) I frankly don’t see any standard by which Lev 18.22 and 20.13 should be literally applied in lieu of these others, per se.

Furthermore, I don’t agree that Lev 18.22 and 20.13 necessarily represent God’s final word for gay and lesbian people. To the contrary, according to Jesus, the social relevance of Levitican law actually suggests the exact opposite.

In Matthew 22.34-40, Jesus is presented with the very question of which Old Testament law is the most important to follow. He responds:

“‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

Turns out, Jesus is referring to Leviticus 19.33-25 here:

“When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.”

(Funny how you don’t hear THIS scripture being thrown around these days–even though Jesus says it’s the second most important commandment!)

I have great faith in Jesus’ ability to distill Old Testament law into contemporary relevance. Thus, to truly love my ‘alien’ neighbor, means joining them in fighting for the same rights and freedoms I believe I am entitled to under the state law–and also God’s eternal promise. This is just as true if my neighbor happens to be gay. I am compelled to advocate precisely because of my Christianity–not in spite of it.

That’s why it’s curious to me that Leviticus (and Paul) are often quoted in defense of the notion that gay and lesbian people are unrepentant sinners. True, there are a handful of biblical quotes that mention ‘same-sex activity’ in passing. However, am I really supposed to believe that these isolated biblical references somehow override Jesus’ crystal clear mandate to put love of our neighbors above nearly all else? Not in my book.

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14 Responses to “Liberating Leviticus”

  1. 1 T. Holland

    I find it interesting that people get very worked up about the Levitical Laws and how Leviticus 18:22 is no more valid than say Leviticus 17, this of course is not true. The Moral Laws that were set forth is the book of Leviticus are still in effect today. The dietary laws were overwritten by Christ in Matthew Chapter 15 and the ceremonial laws were overwritten at the resurrection. We can continue to read in numerous passages that speak not just of the immoral acts of homosexuality, but in adultry, fornication (sex outside of marriage), drunkerds, and even gluttons. In Paul’s 1 letter to the Corinthian Church the 6th chapter, he lists those who will not inherit the Kingdom of God, all of which I have listed are on that list. But he does go on to say that this was what some of you were, which makes the statement that all of those sins can be forgiven with proper repentance. These are behavior issues not genetic issues; they all can be overcome by way of the Holy Spirit.
    Just because the bible states things that we don’t like doesn’t mean we can try and find a loop-hole or come up with some improper exegesis (i.e. Isogesis) or proof text to make an effort to change what is clearly seen.
    When Christ Stated in Matthew 22 the Greatest Commandment, He was saying that you as an individual must Love God with all your heart (turning your heart and all that it loves over to God), Mind (relesing all that evil that dwells with in the mind which consists of anything contrary to His Holy Word), Strength (You must do all that you can to put God first). If you are able to do this you will not only show love to God but the peace and joy that you will have you will want to share with others (i.e. Neighbors) and treat them the same way.
    It is true that God will take you just as you are, but if your truly have the Holy Spirit residing in you, your life will change. The things that you thought were ok will no longer seem appropriate, the things that you use to say will no longer touch your lips. Christ didn’t say accept Him, He said follow Him, and if your not willing to abandon all your not worthy to be His disciple. Homosexuality is no different than any other unrepentant sin, but it can be overcome and it can be forgiven. We as Christians must do all that we can to show all of mankind that we are here to help bring them to the saving power of the Holy Spirit. We need to love them and help Guide them to a true saving faith. The worst thing we can do is tell the unrepentant that their sin is ok, this would give them a false sense of security and when they stand before God, He will say “depart from me your worker of inniquity, I never knew you.” We are called to preach the gospel to all people, but not all people will come to repentance and faith in Christ. Don’t cheapen the Gospel because the current culture accepts sin as normal, thats the worst thing you could do.

    Blessings
    T. Holland

  2. T. Holland,

    I think that what Tom is saying here is that Christ has “trumped” any Levitical Law that can be used to discriminate or oppress any people–much as you claim that Christ’s word overrides the dietary and ritualistic law of Leviticus. Moreover, nowhere does Christ condemn homosexuals. Instead, Christ repeatedly compels us to unconditional love–one would think that with the frequency and urgency of those convictions that we would have gotten the message by now.

    The religious condemnation of homosexuality in Christianity is dependent on a few suspect passages in the Hebrew Scriptures (if anyone wishes me to expand on “suspect” I will, but in the interest of space, I will let it be for now) and on some of the writings of Paul. While Paul was certainly foundational for the early church and the Christian tradition, in my book the commandments of Christ still hold priority.

    -Adam

  3. 3 Nathan

    You must take Paul into consideration – Romans 1 plainly states that homosexuality is sin. I have heard all sorts of different justifications, from “who cares what Paul says” to “he’s not actually talking about homosexuality” but these arguments carry very little weight.

  4. Hi Nathan,

    Thanks for visiting.

    Now, I have not studied Romans at length. But even a cursory read reveals that in the context of what the passage itself is talking about, this is not a passage about homosexuality, but rather the harsh circumstances of punishment brought onto a group wicked, idolatrous people. This passage has nothing to do with homosexual people – that is, people who were created gay and lesbian from birth – but in fact it states explicitly that these are people whose prior wickedness caused them to suffer through sexual degradation.

    Notice that we’re not even getting into “the Word of God” vs. “the words of Paul” here. I’m not disputing the sovereignty of the Epistles (though neither do I believe everything he wrote down is to be applied literally in today’s world), but it is worth pointing out that even in their own context in a different time from now, this passage does not mean what you claim it does.

    Peace,
    Tom

  5. Well, first of all, where does the Bible say that it is OK to have homosexual acts, or that homosexuality is NOT a sin?
    (Note the difference between homosexual behavior and homosexuality. We all are sinners, but murder is sinful, while being a human being is not: being homosexual is not sinful, homosexual acts are)
    After that, show me where in the Bible does God command members of the same sex to lay together, or to multiply, or to marry.
    Lastly, why doesn’t Genesis have Adam and Eve, and Adam and Steve; why does it say “be fertile and multiply” (something which CANNOT be done by homosexual couples), and why does Jesus say “In the beginning, God created MAN and WOMAN” and not “In the beginning God created MAN and MAN or WOMAN and WOMAN.”?

    And now, a list of the Scripture passages, plus some of the writers in the first centuries of the Christian Church:

    ) Genesis 1 “In the begining…God created Adam and Steve”
    Oops! Wrong translation. It should read: “God created Adam and Eve”

    B) Genesis 1:28 “be fruitful and multiply”

    C) Genesis 2:23-24 “The man said, ‘This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh’…For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife and they will become one flesh.”

    D) Leviticus 18:22 “Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination.”

    E) Lev 20:13 “If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death; their blood is upon them.”

    F) Romans 1:26-27: “For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence [sic] of their error which was meet.” [and later St. Paul proceeds to condemn these behaviors)

    G) 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 “wrongdoers; fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites, thieves, greedy drunkards, revilers, robbers” [sodomites: a name derived from the city of Sodom which is described in Genesis 19. (NRSV, NKJ). The men of the city are described as wanting to rape male visitors]

    H) 1 Timothy 1:9-10 “Knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, For whoremongers, for them that defile themselves with mankind, for menstealers, for liars, for perjured persons, and if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine.”

    I) Matthew 19:4-5:
    “…at the beginning, the Creator ‘made them male and female’ and said ‘For this reason man will leave his father and mother, and be united with his wife; and the two will become one flesh.'”

    J) Jude 1:7 “Just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities around them, since they in the same way as these indulged in gross immorality and went after strange flesh, are exhibited as an example in undergoing the punishment of eternal fire.” [see point (G)]


    Now let us turn to the early Christians:

    1) “You shall not commit murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not commit pederasty, you shall not commit fornication, you shall not steal, you shall not practice magic, you shall not practice witchcraft, you shall not murder a child by abortion nor kill one that has been born” (Didache 2:2 [A.D. 70]). [Pederasty: sexual relations between two males, esp. when one of them is a minor.]

    2) “”The fate of the Sodomites was judgment to those who had done wrong, instruction to those who hear. The Sodomites having, through much luxury, fallen into uncleanness, practicing adultery shamelessly, and burning with insane love for boys; the All-seeing Word, whose notice those who commit impieties cannot escape, cast his eye on them. Nor did the sleepless guard of humanity observe their licentiousness in silence; but dissuading … ordered Sodom to be burned, pouring forth a little of the sagacious fire on licentiousness” (Clement of Alexandria, AD 193) [here the early Christian speaks of how God punished Sodom because of their sexual immorality, especially that of sodomy]

    3) “[A]ll other frenzies of the lusts which exceed the laws of nature, and are impious toward both [human] bodies and the sexes, we banish, not only from the threshold but also from all shelter of the Church, for they are not sins so much as monstrosities” (Tertullian [A.D. 220]).

    4) “[H]aving forbidden all unlawful marriage, and all unseemly practice, and the union of women with women and men with men, he [God] adds: ‘Do not defile yourselves with any of these things; for in all these things the nations were defiled, which I will drive out before you. And the land was polluted, and I have recompensed [their] iniquity upon it, and the land is grieved with them that dwell upon it’ [Lev. 18:24–25]” (Eusebius 4:10 [A.D. 319]).

    5) “[Certain men in church] come in gazing about at the beauty of women; others curious about the blooming youth of boys. After this, do you not marvel that [lightning] bolts are not launched [from heaven], and all these things are not plucked up from their foundations? For worthy both of thunderbolts and hell are the things that are done; but God, who is long-suffering, and of great mercy, forbears awhile his wrath, calling you to repentance and amendment” (John Chrysostom [A.D. 391]).

    6) “All of these affections [in Rom. 1:26–27] . . . were vile, but chiefly the mad lust after males; for the soul is more the sufferer in sins, and more dishonored than the body in diseases” (John Chrysostom)

    7) “[The men] have done an insult to nature itself. And a yet more disgraceful thing than these is it, when even the women seek after these intercourses, who ought to have more shame than men” (John Chrysostom)

    8) “[T]hose shameful acts against nature, such as were committed in Sodom, ought everywhere and always to be detested and punished. If all nations were to do such things, they would be held guilty of the same crime by the law of God, which has not made men so that they should use one another in this way” (St. Augustine [A.D. 400]).

    And I have neglected many more, but these should suffice.

    Pax Christi,
    J1Militans

    • Hi J1Militans,

      Your post deserve a far more comprehensive response than this, and I will get to it at a later time. Until then, a few points to ponder:

      Your efforts to conflate contemporary homosexuality with group rape and pederasty are not valid. Homosexual sex is not the same thing as the demeaning, inhospitable group rape depicted in the story of Sodom (or in the parallel version found in Judges 19). And pederasty, [Greek paiderastēs : pais, paid-, child; see pedo- + erastēs, lover (from erāsthai, to love).] is also not the same thing as homosexual sex, which is sex between members of the same sex (age is not part of the definition, as with heterosexual sex).

      You seem to think that your biblical snippets, strung together across centuries, come together to form a cohesive narrative against homosexuality. I disagree. None of the passages you have cited have anything to do with homosexuality as it is roundly experienced today. Again: group rape, orgies, etc. are not the same thing as homosexuality as it is experienced today.
      Is heterosexual sex and/or marriage forbidden except in cases where procreation is possible? I don’t think so. Ergo, the procreation stuff doesn’t carry water.

      While it is important to consider how early Christians interpreted the Bible 1600 years ago, it is also important that we look to the things happening around us in this day and age. What are the human experiences of our time? What may we learn from modern scientific insights? Do we believe in a God whose answer to contemporary concerns is locked in a literal interpretation of scripture? Do we believe in a Jesus who never shows up to reveal new insights in those walking among us?

      Thanks for the challenge, more to follow.

      Peace,
      Tom

  6. 7 Chelsey

    God does not change, If he hated it then he hates it now. Just because our cultures may change does not mean that God changes with us. Do not pervert the word of God by trying to justify Sin.

    • I think it’s really important not to make an idol out of the Bible. The Bible is not God. Furthermore, it is not, in and of itself, the Word of God. In this case, our source for the notion that God ever hated men having sex with men is the Book of Leviticus. These words, attributed to God, appear along with a handful of other stuff, some incredibly enlightening, much of it bizarre. Our task – and it is all of our task, as believers – is to interpret the text as best we can, and discern from it the Word of God. But the mere existence of words in the Bible does not make them (or rather, our understanding of them) to be equal to the Word of God.

      On what basis do you uphold some of the words in Leviticus but not others? If you believe that all of the words in the Bible are equal to the Word of God, then why not bind them all to your daily living?

      Probably because some of them frankly don’t fit right in these times.

      So too, these days, in my experience of the Holy Spirit, people who have same-gender partners are not any more or less “pure” or “unclean” than anyone else. Sin wraps us all in various ways, and there is nothing about sexuality – in and of itself – that is inherently wrong, or sinful. Not mine, not yours, not that of gay people. For Christians, sin enters the picture when we violate God’s ethical parameters for our lives. How we conduct ourselves in relationship with one another, including sexually, is indeed a matter of ethical concern. The genitalia in question, however, is not.

      • 9 Ynot

        Surely if you deny the bible to be the word of god and you “cherry pick” and interpret the parts that are complimentary to living in a modern, enlightened society all you are actually doing is inventing your own, personal religion based loosely on some book you flipped through.

        If that is how you are going to treat this religion, why not just pick a “better” religion to start with; like Jainism?

        Why not just discard the dogma altogether and try and live a good, honest, decent, life based around “treating people better than you expect them to treat you”?

        In short, why not just be an agnostic-atheist, who’s actually a pretty decent guy and judges people only on their personal merits, rather than on some 2000 year old book which has been so heavily edited and rewritten that it’s impossible to find a clear, consistent message in amongst the 438 contradictions, bigotry, racism, sexism, misogyny and child abuse?

        I know. That wasn’t very short.

        But the point is; if you’re just going to personally interpret it all, why not just recognise it’s imperfections as proof that it’s.. imperfect and thus not very godly?

        If Yeshua’s message, ultimately, was “worship god above all others and just try to be nice to each other” then you don’t really need any of the dogma at all. That should be enough for you and for god. Whether people are gay, straight, black, white.. whatever. Just don’t be a dick.

        Peace.

  7. Surely if you deny the bible to be the word of god and you “cherry pick” and interpret the parts that are complimentary to living in a modern, enlightened society all you are actually doing is inventing your own, personal religion based loosely on some book you flipped through.

    If I were doing all of that on my own, perhaps I would be inventing my own religion. But instead, I’m part of a 3,000+ year old tradition that has always does the work of scholarship and interpretation in community, and continues to this very day – even though we have never all been in lockstep agreement in either of those areas.

    It’s curious – you don’t seem to be a Christian fundamentalist, yet you seem to be saying that unless I embrace a Christian fundamentalist hermaneutic of biblical interpretation – as if there were no others that are communal subscribed to – I’m not really a Christian. Obviously, I disagree.

    I love the Bible, but there is no particular ‘faith litmus test’ regarding what one must believe about the Bible. What truly matters is one’s relationship with God and one’s neighbor, and though some may disagree, I don’t have to kick the Bible to the curb in order to be all right with God – even the 438 contradictions et al. Given all of this, I don’t really understand what you are advocating, Ynot.

    Peace be with you.

    • 11 Ynot

      Well, you seem to be advocating disregarding the parts of the bible that you collectively “dislike” because… everyone else does it?

      If a bunch of people get together and agree to interpret something in a way it was never meant, that’s OK? As long as they can all agree? Or just most of them? What if people come along later and disagree? Can the interpretation be changed back? Does that mean everyone who accepted that interpretation is now in a spot of bother with god?

      Either it’s the word of god or it’s just a book. I don’t need 3000 yrs of scholars “interpreting” and agreeing with each other to see that. If it’s the word of god, it doesn’t need “interpreting” and it’s no-ones place to do so. If it’s just a book, why follow any of it?

      If the bible is an outline (and it supposedly is) of the “laws” of Christianity and you choose not to follow them or to pick and choose, then no; you are not a Christian, regardless of your claimed “relationship” with god because all you’ve done is ignore the rules and invent your own game. Surely?

      If I sat down and wrote a list of all the things that I “knew” Yeshua would be cool with (based upon what I *think* he meant to say in the bible) and used that as a basis for my life, would I be a Christian? Or did I just make up my own religion?

      I’m not “advocating” anything, I am just trying to understand.

      Peace.

      • Ynot,

        You are mistaken that I and my fellow Christian ilk are “disregarding the parts of the bible that [we] collectively ‘dislike'”. I don’t disregard any part of the Bible. What do you mean by “disregard”?

        You write, “If a bunch of people get together and agree to interpret something in a way it was never meant, that’s OK? As long as they can all agree? Or just most of them? What if people come along later and disagree? Can the interpretation be changed back? Does that mean everyone who accepted that interpretation is now in a spot of bother with god?”

        These are all interesting questions. But they are filled with assumptions that need to be unpacked if we’re gonna get serious about considering them.

        You continue: “…If it’s the word of god, it doesn’t need “interpreting” and it’s no-ones place to do so. If it’s just a book, why follow any of it?” The Bible doesn’t interpret itself. All readers of any book are necessarily interpreters. Surely you know this. Why do I follow the Bible? Because it contains tremendous spiritual truth, and is and has been a lens through which God has spoken. But the conduit is not the One who speaks. Our understanding of what the words say is not the same thing as the Word of God itself. So what good is the Bible? Sometimes, God uses (and has used) that book to speak. But the Bible is also a book which has documented over a thousand years of religious interpretation of the people of my faith. And so it can enrich the faith of those who come from this tradition, because it can offer us a sense of context and history.

        Finally, I disagree with your concept of the Bible when you write, “if the bible is an outline (and it supposedly is) of the ‘laws’ of Christianity and you choose not to follow them or to pick and choose then no; you are not a Christian.” First, wherever did you get that notion of what the Bible is? And second, wherever did you get that notion of what it means to be Christian?

        You seem to have some latent assumptions about what Christians must believe in order to be authentically Christian, and what the Bible must be if it is to be of any use to anyone (and who God is, and what God must be concerned about, for that matter). Are you consciously aware of what your assumptions are? If so, what are they, and where did they come from?

  8. 13 raydoo

    The issue only gets ‘real’ vs. ‘spiritual’ when one attempts to promote their faith to the law of the land when no one agrees on exactly which faith should be promoted. Inevitably, it degenerates into a bogus holy war against political minorities in a winner-take-all democracy.

    This is supposed to be about understanding God so individuals can live good lives, not about usurping the word of God so we can demean and disenfranchise those who see the truth differently. I think Jesus was pretty clear on presenting the folly of this approach to the word. With religious freedom, we must give in order to receive.

  9. 14 Ynot

    Watch this and you’ll get the idea of what I’m trying to say:

    Someone else always seems to take my ideas and make them make sense; I guess I’m just not that original, eh? 😀


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